Immigration Election 2016: The Whole Picture

Ever since Donald Trump joined the presidential race, his controversial comments on illegal immigrants, Hispanic immigrants in particular, have drawn heavy attention. He has made the issue of immigration an election 2016 must. While he is considered controversial in his own right, some say that he might, in effect, be pulling the Republican name down with him. Despite swing states being characterized mainly by diversity especially in race, Trump is still gaining in the national polls.

However, the effect Trump’s rhetoric has on other candidates is that they bury their opinions under his own. There are two ways that other presidential hopefuls respond. First, some attack Trump’s position on immigration reform, and come out clean by contrast. Second, some have begun to define their own immigration policies with more clarity. Trump has kicked politics out of the game, so to speak, with his straightforward language. It might be that presidential hopefuls are taking advantage of that.


Immigration: the Issue that Refuses to Go Away for 2016

So long as the swing states are the main predictors of the presidential elections, immigration will continue to be an issue. The only thing that will change is presidential candidates’ policy stands on the issue. It seems that Trump is proving that diplomatic speech on the issue does not necessarily equal loss of support, at least in the polls. Since this is the case, more and more presidential candidates are speaking clearer on their policy stands on immigration.

Hillary Clinton: Trump, What is Your Plan?

Currently, the leading candidate for the Democrat nomination is actively promising voters that Hillary Clinton will demand that Donald Trump outline a clear, believable plan for immigration reform. When asked what her plan for the 11 million undocumented immigrants was, she moved against Trump.

“I find it the height of irony that a party which espouses small government would want to unleash a massive law enforcement effort—including perhaps the National Guard and others—to go and literally pull people out of their houses and their workplaces.”


In May, before Trump’s declaration of candidacy, Clinton already had a clear, detailed outline of her plan for undocumented immigrants.

“We can’t wait any longer for a path to full and equal citizenship. […] When [the Republicans] talk about legal status, that is code for second-class status.”

This appeal was already a firm part of Clinton’s platform, and continues to be so, the exact opposite of Trump’s. There is no current need for her to redefine her policy stance: it has been openly declared.

Ben Carson: Go Easy on the South, But Block the East

Ben Carson advocates the “legal status” that Clinton scoffs at, calling Trump’s immigration plans “naive.” If undocumented immigrants have no criminal records, he suggests, they should be allowed guest-worker status, and may apply for citizenship.

“They have a six-month window and they can get registered, they can pay a back tax penalty, they can pay their taxes going forward, and they now exist aboveground.”

On the other hand, Carson is wary of the refugee immigrants coming from the east. Recalling the Boston Marathon Bombings, he suggests that the U.S. should close its borders to Syrian refugees.

“How did that screening process work for the Tsarnaev brothers?” he asks. “We don’t know whose those people are, and the majority of them are young males, and they could easily be people who could be infiltrated by terrorists.”

The risk to national security, he believes, is too great.


Bernie Sanders: A Path to Citizenship

In Iowa this month, Bernie Sanders addressed a Latino roundtable on immigration reform. First, of course, he denounced Trump and the Republican views on immigration reform. He said,

“This country has experienced racism for hundreds of years. I would have hoped that by the year 2015 leading candidates for president like Mr. Trump would campaign on their ideas as to how they can address our serious problems, and not by trying to divide the country with racist and demagogic appeals.” He then declares, “We need legislation which takes 11 million undocumented people living in the United States out of the shadows and puts them on a path to citizenship.”

This is a much clearer stance than the one he held only last June, before Trump and his descriptions of illegal immigrants. In fact, at the time, his stand revolved around “immigration reform” and “deportation relief.” He was so vague that Democrat Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois said, “I hope he likes immigrants. I haven’t heard him say anything. He’s been kind of quiet and silent.” He has come a long way since then, with a definite stand to pit himself against and clarify his own.

Jeb Bush: Chill on Political Correctness

The latest stand of Jeb Bush has sparked its own kind of controversy. He is clear on allowing legal status for immigrants, and on encouraging what is called temporary economic migration or labor migration. However, he stands against the abuse of immigration laws that were originally meant to ease the way of citizenship for children. He said,

“That’s [the] legitimate side of this. Better enforcement so that you don’t have these, you know, ‘anchor babies,’ as they’re described, coming into the country.”


When criticized for the term, he borrows a Trump leaf and says, “I think we need to chill out a little bit as it relates to the political correctness that somehow you have to scolded every time you say something.” His rhetoric has not changed much from pre-Trump months, where he encouraged border enforcement and eventual legal status. However, his words and tone are daringly more to-the-point.

The Whole Immigration Picture

One result of Donald Trump’s joining the presidential race is the new and improved enemy that the Democrats face. As opposite as his stances on immigration are from the traditionally Democrat ones, they may now bring him and his policies up in every speech they have on immigration. From an objective point of view, this may very well strengthen the Democrat position.

On the other hand, the effect on the Republicans does not seem to have harmed them any. With Trump staying consistently high the polls, it can be argued that their “true” opinions and plans on immigration are emerging. For all the voters involved, this might be the best thing so far as a result of Trump’s emergence as candidate.

About the author

Esther has a B.A. in Humanities and an M.A. in Political Economy. When she's not writing, she enjoys playing Sequence with her family, training in Aikido, and curling up with coffee and a good book.